Unified police department proposal in Frankford’s court

Frankford may be facing a referendum in the coming weeks to substantially increase their property taxes, as it looks to team up with the Town of Dagsboro to unify their police departments.

Last week, the Towns of Dagsboro and Frankford held two public forums to discuss the possibility of a unified police department.

“The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the proposed unification — I want to clarify, this is not a merger into one single department — it is a unification of two departments that will maintain their sovereignty,” said Dagsboro Police Chief Floyd Toomey. “It is designed to strengthen both town’s ability to respond to emergencies more effectively and efficiently enforce the law. A singular chain of command will be implemented, one chief, one executive officer, serving both towns.”

In order to pay for the unification, the Town of Frankford would have to raise their property taxes by 56 percent.

“The residents of Frankford need to decide if this is a priority,” said Frankford councilman Marty Presley.

At the Sept. 13 meeting, Toomey said officers would wear similar uniforms, patches, and other uniform-related paraphernalia. The Town’s police vehicles would be similar in style and design, as well as markings. Officers would be housed at the Dagsboro Police Department, Frankford used as a substation and evidence storage area. Toomey said this would be best for officer and visitor safety, as the Frankford Police Department was formerly operating out of the second floor of its municipal building.

The two towns would have a total of six officers — two hired by Frankford and four by Dagsboro (which the Town currently already funds).

Toomey said the total cost to the Town of Frankford for the two officers’ salaries insurance and pension would be approximately $121,506. He stressed that figure does not include general operating expenses — such as vehicles, ammunition, office supplies, et cetera.

He noted he believes the salary adjustment Dagsboro recently approved will help with retention of officers in both towns.

Frankford resident (and Coastal Point reporter) Laura Walter asked why the Town would have to hire two officers.

“We believe six officers would afford us what we’re talking about and give us the ability, if in fact we had a long-term illness, training, vacation — to continue that coverage with one officer out,” said Toomey, noting that all officers would be sworn in both jurisdictions and be covering both towns.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Dagsboro officer and you’re being paid by the Town of Dagsboro, and you’re the only one working. If there’s a complaint in Frankford, you respond to it and handle it as if it were your own.”

Dagsboro resident RuthAnn Marvel said she was concerned it would decrease her town’s police coverage. Toomey said it would increase Frankford’s coverage, and give officers additional field support on certain days.

The two parties would enter into a three-year contract to facilitate the unification.

“This would better instill confidence with citizens and future officers knowing there would be stability in the department.”

A sample schedule created would offer four days of 22-hours of coverage for both towns, with three days of 20-hour coverage. It would be an increase to both towns’ police coverage.

“I think the general consensus is this is a great opportunity. It’s a great way for Frankford to exponentially increase their coverage,” said Presley.

“The downside of it for Frankford is, we only budgeted for one police officer this year.”

Presley said the Town is on a time crunch in terms of getting a police officer so the Town doesn’t lose grant funding. If the Town does choose to go through with the referendum, he said he hopes to do it within 6 to 12 weeks.

Frankford resident Jerry Smith questioned what the Towns were trying to accomplish with the proposed unification, noting his town’s department received few calls.

“Chief Toomey said last night that our calls will increase when our citizens have the confidence that they’ll have some place to call and get a response,” replied Frankford councilman Greg Welch.

Frankford councilman Skip Ash added that the traffic in Frankford has increased “from all angles” and it is becoming dangerous.

“We’re trying to improve the situation,” said Presley.

“…For the Frankford residents, you can’t turn a blind eye to the fact, we have people selling heroin in the park… Crime is there and it’s not going to get any better. If everybody knows there is no police officers in Frankford, guess where they’re going to do their drug deals.”

Toomey noted a similar unification existed in Camden-Wyoming for a number of years, however the two did split in 2008.

Following the meeting, Dagsboro Mayor Brian Baull said the town had no plan to discuss the matter further at their council meeting.

“Honestly, right now I think the ball is in Frankford’s court. The big decision is, do they have the money to do it,” he said.

Baull noted that while Dagsboro council could make the decision unilaterally, if Frankford’s potential referendum passed, he wouldn’t be opposed to having a day when residents could cast a vote to voice their opinion regarding the unification.

“It seemed the majority of folks out here tonight were in favor of it… I wouldn’t want to just make the decision for them. I’d want to get as many people as possible to say, ‘we’re in favor of it,’ or ‘no, we’d like to leave it as it is.’

“If they decide it’s not within their budgetary discretion to do it, it’s for lack of a better term, no harm no foul. I think that, especially with smaller towns like both of us, you’ve got to look at things like this because it can save money and provide a public service— it’s going to be a win-win for both towns.”